Artwork by bellanca.
Chapter 21 — The Hodag.
I don't know why some people thought I made up the Hodag. It's a genuine American legendary creature.
I kept going back and forth on whether it should be capitalized, though. Rowling capitalizes the names of her magical beasts, except when she doesn't. And she never followed any consistent rules. As the ever-helpful Potterwords puts it: "These aren’t obvious. The general rule is that better-known creatures are in lower case and odder ones are capitalised, but there are exceptions."
So I default to not capitalizing my magical beasts. The problem is I also try to be consistent with Rowling's rules, when I mention Rowling's creatures, and then it looks stupid to have capitalized and non-capitalized critters in the same sentence.
This is why I don't believe her when she says she had extensive notes. Well, I believe she had notes about her story and she scribbled down odd details now and then like the Black family tree. But she didn't have a series bible, or her own wiki, or anything like that to keep her shit straight.
I do, but I don't always keep it perfectly up to date (one reason I am doing this rereading).
So anyway, last chapter, Larry made a wager with Alex. (Gee, wonder if that will ever happen again?) In this chapter, Anna once again shows she is a loyal friend and not a doormat by threatening to tattle on Alex if she doesn't let her come along.
“I'm coming with you,” Anna repeated in a whisper. “It's too dangerous for you to go out into the woods at night by yourself and you know it, or you would know if you ever listened to anything –”
“I said I don't need a lecture!” Alexandra snapped.
“Fine. But I'm coming.”
“No, you're not.”
“Yes I am, or I'm telling.”
Alexandra's mouth dropped open. “What?”
Anna paused to sniffle and wipe her nose, and Alexandra thought she was about to cry, but then she looked up again. She met Alexandra's gaze and didn't look away.
“I mean it. If you go without me, I'll tell the Hall Supervisor,” she said, referring to the old warlock whose portrait hung above the entrance to Delta Delta Kappa Tau hall.
Anna looked determined. “Don't think I'm bluffing! You're not the only one who can be stubborn, Alex.”
I get why people (okay, tealterror0) say Anna is meek and submissive. She looks up to Alex, she doesn't like conflict, and given a choice, she would rather let others lead. So sure, she's meek and submissive until she thinks you're being a dumbass. Then she speaks up, and is not above using threats herself. She even does this with her father. Yeah, sometimes she lets people (Alex) boss her around when she shouldn't. But I'd argue that she also stands up to Alex more often than David or Constance and Forbearance do.
Anyway, Alexandra, before wandering out into the woods, comes across Mr. Journey and Mr. Thiel in the hallways and mentions her interest in hodags to Mr. Journey. (Dun dun dun!)
Then she and Anna go into the woods.
The snow was becoming heavier, and it was definitely getting colder. Alexandra's heart was beating a little faster, after that bizarre cry from the deep woods, but it was something else that made her swallow hard and say, almost in a whisper, “Let's go inside.”
Anna stared at her, her expression a mixture of desperate hope, relief, and trepidation. “Really? But... but... you'll lose the wager. You'll owe Larry a boon.” She looked down. “It's because of me, isn't it?” she murmured
Alexandra knelt next to Anna. “You're sick,” she said. “And it's getting colder.”
Anna sneezed, then looked up at her stubbornly. “I can make it until morning,” she said. “I know I'm not brave like you, Alex, but –”
Another long inhuman howl, like the groaning of something large and in pain (or hungry) set Jingwei and Charlie both to protesting overhead, and made Anna gulp. It sounded closer this time.
“Come on!” Alexandra said. She helped Anna stand and extract herself from her bedroll. Anna quickly stuffed it into the improbably small leather bag it came in, and extinguished the fire.
Alexandra is frequently a jerk who mistreats her friends and takes them for granted. Usually she realizes she's doing this, albeit a little late more often than not. But she can also be self-sacrificing. She's willing to concede victory to Larry for Anna's sake, just as three years later, she does something similar for Mary Dearborn.
Of course, Larry was planning to cheat, so he and his friends show up to ambush Alex and Anna. Which is when the hodag shows up. Or does it? Everyone runs inside without actually seeing the creature that's making eerie noises and knocking over trees.
“So you really did ... what's that Muggle term? Chicken?” Larry was grinning with delight. The sight made Alexandra's face burn with fury.
“You were going to cheat!” she yelled. “And you were trying to kill us!”
“Oh, stop whining, Troublesome.” He was almost chortling. “You lost the wager and you know it.”
Anna sneezed. Then a deep voice said, “What's this about a wager?”
They all turned. Mr. Journey had followed Alexandra and Anna from outside, through the still-open door.
“I thought I saw some kids running across the grounds, from the woods,” he said. “What in Merlin's name are you young'uns up to?”
Good old Mr. Journey, showing up in the nick of time...
At this point, I figured no one could say I hadn't left enough clues as to who the real villain was.
So what was out in the woods? I established that Mr. Journey was able to use magical beasts to do his dirty work (he was responsible for the redcaps and the kappa at Old Larkin Pond), so did he really summon a hodag to eat Alexandra? Or was it something else out there in the woods? Are hodags real? Maybe you'll find out in book five...
Yes, once again, I punted a bit plot-wise here. Mr. Journey was... up to something. In the woods. With some kind of critter. I never specified the exact mechanism or how exactly he was going to kill Alexandra or what really happened out there. It was another of his series of vague "Try to put something dangerous where Alexandra is and hope she bites it" schemes. Partly he was cowardly, partly he was trying to avoid the counter-curse of her "Circle of Protection," and partly he was just squeamish. Which made it easy for me to keep writing vague, not very effective murder attempts.
I don't think the writing style in this chapter was particularly good -- I could have improved the scenery and the dialog a lot more. But I think showing other sides of Alexandra and Anna both, as well as developing their friendship, was the most important part of this chapter. The ongoing rivalry with Larry was something that some readers seem to have gotten tired of quickly, but here it was just a means to an end.
Wizards are assholes
Other people have made this point more succinctly than virginia_fell in Harry Potter Wizards are Useless Assholes and I Hate Them, but interestingly it came up as a side note here in the reviews by one of my earlier betas. I wasn't even particularly thinking about the implications of Mrs. Murphy giving Anna a Pepper Up Potion, but as miles2go pointed out: hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of Muggles, die every year from the flu, and wizards have a cure handed out by school nurses.
I have thought about other implications of the wizarding world. Oh yes.
So yeah, wizards are kind of assholes.